SIKESTON -- While the days of slaving over the Thanksgiving turkey still exist, over the past few years another, quicker method of cooking the holiday bird has surfaced -- deep-frying turkeys.
And thanks to the aluminum contraptions specifically designed for frying turkeys, men have displayed an increasing interest in holiday meal preparation -- a job typically left up to the women in the family.
Even humor columnist Dave Barry has a take on deep-frying turkeys: "The 'hot' new Thanksgiving culinary trend is to cook turkeys in big deep-fat fryers, which are hugely popular because they give guys an excuse to spend Thanksgiving outside drinking beer and messing around with a device that could potentially destroy an entire neighborhood.
"Now that guys have decided to become seriously involved in Thanksgiving food preparation, it's only a matter of time before they come up with a recipe for mashed potatoes that involves a grenade launcher." (For more on Barry's opinion about deep-frying turkeys, turn to page 4.)
According to a national survey, 17.3 percent of U.S. consumers polled plan to deep-fry a turkey this holiday season with 72 percent of the respondents using the alternative method on Thanksgiving. The telephone survey of 1,000 adults was conducted for LouAna Peanut Oil by Synovate, a top global research company.
But for Lynn Bock of New Madrid, deep-frying turkeys has become somewhat of a holiday tradition. Bock can usually be found out on his driveway on Thanksgiving morning, deep-frying turkeys for his family. He discovered the method about 10 years ago after watching a cooking show on PBS. "I usually start with a 12- to 13-pound turkey, five gallons of peanut oil and a cooker large enough to hold oil safely," Bock said.
Then Bock lets the oil heat to about 355 to 360 degrees and lowers the turkey down into the pot. He recommended cooking it for about 3.5 minutes per pound, and in about 35 minutes, it's done.
Bock credited Ras Jones for a method he uses: "Wrap the turkey in foil after it's been cooked for an hour. Now it won't get a crispy skin when you do that, but it allows the steam to permeate the turkey and allows it to be moist."
And every cook has their own method. For example, Harold Lemons of East Prairie prefers to cook his turkeys, ranging in size from 12-14 pounds, for about four minutes per pound at 325 degrees and not over 350.
"If you want them spicy, then you take cajun seasoning and mix it with the oil and heat it up, and it dissolves. I usually end up injecting it with a needle," Lemons suggested.
Lemons gained his deep-frying experience from cooking with the James Bayou Catfish Cookers. Up until a couple of years ago, the Cookers deep-fried about 100 turkeys -- in addition to the 400 turkeys they smoked -- during the holiday season, he said.
Cooking by the hundreds can be a lot of work, but deep-frying two or three turkeys is fairly simple, Lemons said.
"A fryer and the spices are all you need. A lot of these turkey fryers you buy come with a turkey injector," he said.
One of the biggest advantages of deep-frying turkeys is the length of time it takes -- from start to finish, Lemons noted.
"It doesn't even take an hour to cook them unlike when you bake a turkey, then you're looking at two-and-a-half or three hours. With this, I start at 11 a.m. and I'm done by noon," Lemons said.
With anything, there are few things to remember when cooking, Bock noted.
"I think every year houses burn down in New Orleans (from deep-turkey frying fires)," Bock said.
Don't cook indoors, and do not substitute peanut oil with vegetable oil or lard, Bock cautioned. Make sure the pot is big enough to hold the oil so the oil doesn't spill over the edges of the pot and result in a fire, he advised.
"Some cooking instructions will say fill the pot with water and lower the turkey down in it to make sure it's not too full. Then empty the water and add the oil," Bock explained. Follow these simple rules, and the result is a golden, juicy turkey with a slightly different flavor than the traditional oven-baked turkey, both Bock and Lemons said.
"There's no coating on the outside and the skin gets to be a golden brown," Lemons described. "If cooked right, you'll end up with a nice, spicy flavor."